Holtz: Cincy is big game, not season

After two road games USF returns home and is looking for their first conference win against Cincinnati on Saturday. Check out the rundown and see what's been looking good, what still needs work, keys to the game, roster report, who to keep an eye on and more.

South Florida coach Skip Holtz acknowledges the importance of his team's game against Cincinnati -- its first Big East game at home this season -- but he stops short of saying it will make or break the season for the Bulls.

The Bulls have lost their last two games, both conference affairs, after winning their first four outings, including a win at Notre Dame in the season-opener.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, both the losses were against Big East foes, dropping them to the bottom of the standings.

Holtz, however, sees opportunity ahead.

"We're at the halfway point and we're 4-and-2," he said. "We have made a huge issue about the conference and that's where we need to go. That's where we want to go.

"Is this game big in the conference race? Yes -- especially with what we've done to this point. Being 0-and-2, it's a very important game for us. I'm glad we have the opportunity to play at home. But I'm not looking at it as a crossroads, that this is a sink-or-swim game and if you were to lose this game the season is over and the last five games you're going to go through the motions and you're going to throw in the towel.

"This team will continue to compete. They will continue to fight and they will continue to play. We have to take a 1-and-0 approach each and every week and when we come out of Cincinnati, we have to evaluate where we are and make the decision on what we do the open week and how we move forward.

"I've said this almost every week. We are a work in progress. We're not there. We're a work in progress and we have to continue to improve."

After hosting the Bearcats, the Bulls have another bye week -- their second of the season -- before hitting the road again for two more games. They are at Rutgers on Nov. 5 and at Syracuse on Nov. 12 before getting back home for their final three games (Miami, Louisville, West Virginia).

NOTES, QUOTES

--USF coach Skip Holtz called the loss at Connecticut "frustrating" because while some Bulls had career games, they still weren't able to cash in on opportunities to put more points on the board in the 16-10 loss. He also was unhappy with the number of penalties, nine for 89 yards, and told reporters that he had asked the Big East office to take a look at the game tape to evaluate some of the calls.

--The Bulls will have faced the Big East's top three rushers in their last three games after they play Cincinnati. Bearcats RB Isaiah Pead is averaging 104 yards a game rushing. The streak started with Pitt's Ray Graham, who is averaging a league-best 134 yards a game on the ground, running for 226 against the Panthers. In the last game, UConn's Lyle McCombs, just over 100 for the year, ran for 130 against USF.

--USF has lost the last two meetings with Cincinnati at home, 34-17 in 2009 and 28-33 in 2007.

SERIES HISTORY: Cincinnati leads USF 5-3 (last meeting, 2010, USF 38-30).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: USF is the Big East's second-most productive offense with an average of 476.2 yards a game for the season, but that is misleading. Much of that came in romps against Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP. That average is down to 382 in the two conference games. The problem has been cashing in on the yardage for scores. The Bulls have scored only 27 points in two Big East games and are last in the league in scoring in league games only.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: USF took a big step in its performance against Connecticut after getting pushed around at will in the loss to Pittsburgh. The Bulls defense didn't give up a touchdown as UConn's only six-pointer came on the return of a fumble recovery.

The problem in the two conference games has been an inability to stop the opponent on third down. Pitt and UConn converted 16-of-33 opportunities against the Bulls, putting USF in last place in the conference in third-down defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm glad it's not a basketball game because they're huge up front." -- Coach Skip Holtz, on the size of Cincinnati's offensive line, which features 6-7 LT Alex Hoffman and 6-9 RT Sean Hooey.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Cincinnati at South Florida, Oct. 22 -- After stumbling at Tennessee in the second game of the season, Cincy (5-1) comes to Tampa riding a four-game winning streak. The Bearcats have outscored their opponents 155-44 in that stretch are 1-0 in Big East play after beating Louisville 25-16 in their last outing. At 0-2, USF simply can't afford another loss in conference play at this point and retain even the slim hopes they have now to get a share of the conference title.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop, or at least slow, RB Isaiah Pead. The Cincinnati senior has rushed for a touchdown in six consecutive games and ran for 151 yards his last outing. USF's offense needs to get its act together against a Cincy defense that didn't give up a touchdown to Louisville in its last game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

DE Ryne Giddins -- The sophomore is beginning to emerge as the dominant player most expected of him. He has two sacks in his last two games. For the season, he has 24 tackles with six for losses.

RB Demetris Murray -- When starter Darrell Scott lost a fumble at his own 10-yard-line that cost the Bulls a touchdown at UConn, Murray came in and finished the game. He has run for 295 yards this season with three rushing touchdowns. He has been known for speed, but showed some power against UConn as well.

WR Sterling Griffin -- The sophomore can stretch the field for the Bulls in the passing game. He leads the team with 32 receptions for 420 yards and a touchdown.

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